- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

More than a half-century ago, youngsters delighted in rearranging the radio pushbuttons on Buicks. Instead of B-U-I-C-K, they came out as C-I-K-U-B, which stood for “Can I Kiss You Baby?”

Of course, in most cases the young people were changing the buttons on Buicks that belonged to their parents. Then, as now, a Buick was not for youngsters. Buick owners were established and substantial citizens — doctors and other professional people who wanted something prestigious but not as showy as a Cadillac.

Though Buick has not exactly fallen on hard times, it is not the powerhouse it once was, when it was one of the top-selling nameplates in the country. For a brief period, from 1949 through most of the 1950s, its trademark was the portholes in the front fenders — three or four, depending on the model and the size of the engine.

At the top of the line was the gigantic Roadmaster, which originally came with an in-line eight-cylinder engine and a Dynaflow automatic transmission. It was a torque converter with no shift points, so the sensation was similar to what people experience now with continuously variable transmissions (CVT).

Of course, the Roadmaster had four holes in each front fender, identifying it as the Buick of all Buicks. The holes disappeared for many years, but they’re back on the 2006 Lucerne.

The Lucerne is now the top-of-the-line Buick, with a choice of a V-6 or, for the first time in a decade, a V-8 engine. But somehow it doesn’t have the same emotional content as its counterpart many years ago.

Lucerne sounds like something you’d find in a chic designer gift shop. Its ancestor, on the other hand, was Master of the Road.Be that as it may, the Lucerne now carries the mantle of all that is Buick. It is built off the same platform as the Cadillac DTS, which is the only remaining front-driver in the Cadillac lineup.

Though it works well enough, the transmission doesn’t measure up to some of the new five- and six-speed automatics now common in this class of car.

Overall, however, the Lucerne is a credible entry in what is sometimes referred to as the near-luxury class. It is a five-passenger sedan, only an inch short of 17 feet long, and it has a trunk that can hold 17 cubic feet of luggage and other stuff.

Front-seat passengers fare quite well, in comfortable and supportive bucket seats, though the bottom cushions are a tad long for shorter drivers. The steering wheel has only five vertical adjustments, which works for some people, but others have a hard time finding a comfortable setting.

In the rear, headroom for the outboard passengers is somewhat limited and there’s not much foot space beneath the front seats. The center-rear passenger, as usual these days, must cope with hard upholstery and a big hump in the floor.

The interior, however, is tastefully done with quality materials that include woodlike plastic trim and nicely stitched upholstery. A minor problem is that the shiny trim sometimes reflects sunlight into the driver’s eyes.

Buicks have always been road masters, though not always in name, and the Lucerne is no exception. It cruises the highways in serene silence, with little wind, road or mechanical noise to mar the experience. The ride is not pillow-soft, as in some Buicks of yore, but it is cushy enough to satisfy traditional Buick owners.

With a hood that falls away so that most drivers cannot even see it, the Lucerne drives smaller than it is, feeling more like a midsize car.

But its moves are not that of a sports sedan. When you steer into a curve, the tires take a solid bite, but the suspension system doesn’t follow as precisely, requiring some steering correction as you track through the turn.

There are four Lucerne models: a base model with a V-6 engine, the CXL with a choice of V-6 or V-8, and the CXS, which comes only with the V-8. The test car was the CXL with the Cadillac Northstar V-8.

It’s plenty of motivation for this 2-ton car. It takes less than seven seconds to reach 60 mph from a standing start, and there’s adequate power for passing on two-lane country roads.

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